By Jim Bray
If you've always loved the VW Golf but want something with which you can carry more stuff, the German carmaker has a Golf model for you to love.
It's the Golf Sportwagon, which is a terrific car and I have to admit up front that if I didn't already have a VW-owned wagon in my life I might be stampeding for the nearest dealership to sign on the dotted line. That's how much I loved this car.
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Of course it isn't perfect, but it offers pretty well everything I want in a car with the possible exception of massive torque. The torque angst comes from VW Canada's sample having been equipped with the new base, 1.8 litre turbo four cylinder engine rather than the TDI turbo diesel that ups the torque ante from the gas engine's 185 (with hp of 170) to a much more interesting 236 (with only 150 hp, but it's the torque that pushes you back into your seat).
Sportwagons start at $22,495 Canadian for the base, "Trendline" model, but VW's sample was of the top, Highline persuasion, which starts at $30,495. VW's sample was even pricier, at $35,720, because it also included the multimedia package. Add about two grand if you opt for the diesel, in whatever trim level you care to choose. A lot of money for a stretched Golf? Perhaps, but it's a lot of car!
I'm not only a fan of wagons, but I love Volkswagens, too, so I'm probably a soft touch when it comes to this car. I'd never driven a Volkswagen before I started reviewing cars, but since then I've become a real fan of the brand. I loved the new Golf when I first drove it and I loved the new GTI even more - though I wish you could get it as a wagon. That said, I expect excellence inside and out from my favourite brands, which may be one reason I've been disappointed with the most recent Hondas I've driven.
Needless to say, I expected to love the Golf Sportwagon but was afraid it would have some ugly secrets. Thank goodness it didn't work out that way!
Available, at least for now, only as a front wheel drive car, VW's sample came with the optional six speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode and a sport mode, but it lacked the paddle shifters that let you leave your hands on the steering wheel while shifting manually. You can get a good five speed manual, but better choices are the diesel's six speed manual (which is lovely) or DSG dual clutch automatic (which is also lovely and, at least on the GTI, can be had with paddles). Still, the Tiptronic is a nice automatic overall; I just prefer the other options.
The new four cylinder engine works great and I never really needed more oomph (I just like having it!). There's a bit of turbo lag, but not an outrageous amount, and I didn't notice any torque steer worth mentioning. The suspension toes the line between sport and comfort very well - in fact, everything about this car screams "premium" in a way no other car that I've driven in this segment does, with the notable exception of the Mazda3. It's no Audi, but it's a heckuva Volkswagen.
We had the Sportwagon for review when we had to take a road trip to a neighbouring city for a bit of a family reunion in honour of my Dad's 95th birthday, and it proved to be the nearly perfect vehicle for the trip. The lack of a USB port meant I couldn't charge my phone while I streamed tunes via the car's built in Bluetooth interface, but that was hardly a deal breaker: you can configure the car specifically with an Apple interface if you want, and that's how the sample just happen to come. And the extra storage allowed by the bigger and longer bum let us stow coolers, clothes, a portable barbecue, and all the other stuff that's important when you're planning a big picnic away from home.
The Highline designation adds quite a bit of stuff to the base Trendline trim level. It's a pretty long list that includes LED Signature Daytime Running Lights (DRL), Bi-Xenon HID headlights with clear polycarbonate lenses, an Adaptive Front-light System (AFS) and "no extra charge" metallic paint, which on VW's sample was a beautiful Blue Silk Metallic. The sample also came with the Fender audio and multimedia system that in previous generations I held up as one of the standards by which all others should be measured.
The new interface is still a good one, but not quite as good as before because it isn't as easy to use. Before, VW had six big virtual buttons on the LCD screen, as two stacks of three, but now they've spread five across the screen with smaller buttons and you can scroll to subsequent screens the way you can with a smart phone or tablet. They've also added icons - for example, the satellite radio stations' logos. It still works well, but - and this may only be a personal preference - I'd rather have simpler buttons with no scrolling because the old way allows you to pay less attention to the screen and more to the road ahead, while the new interface requires more attention.
That said, the Fender audio system (which doesn't really put speakers on the fenders) is first rate. One of the many things the Germans do very well is include decent stereos even if they're entry level, and this 400 watt, eight speaker (plus subwoofer) system is hardly entry level.
As with other Volkswagens, the Golf Sportwagon drives great, handles very well and feels like it was carved out of a single block of granite. Its $35,720 as tested price, not including other charges and taxes, may seem a tad dear but after spending a week in this terrific vehicle I don't think so. It feels like a premium vehicle.
I don't understand why North Americans seem to have such disdain for wagons - well, other than those gigantic, plastic wood-equipped abominations of my youth. Just like you don't have to stick with two doors to get a sporty car these days, what with the many fine sports sedans available, buying a wagon doesn't mean you've given up on the fun to drive factor. If anything, the extra weight (1,318 kg for the Golf five door Highline versus 1,498 kg for the Sportwagon Highline) could result in a car that's balanced even better than the "buttockless" version. Plus you can haul more stuff.
How can that be a bad thing?
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
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